Hands-On with Redstone 5: Sets

Posted on May 14, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 56 Comments

Based on my early experience, Sets could emerge as the marquee new feature in Redstone 5.

As you may recall, Microsoft originally hoped to include Sets in Windows 10 version 1803 (Redstone 4), but the feature as originally implemented was too limited—it didn’t even support desktop applications—so it was pushed back to RS5.

Unfortunately, those who are currently testing RS5 may or may not see Sets because Microsoft is doing A/B testing, which is a nonsensical concept in this context. The good news? Rafael has written a utility that will enable Sets if you’re not seeing the feature in your RS5-based PCs.

Visually, Sets is a bit jarring at first: It adds a tab and a Microsoft Edge-like “Previous tabs” button to Store apps and some desktop application windows. It’s not quite as awkward-looking at it was in the RS4 implementation, but it’s still different enough from previous Windows 10 versions that my eyes keep getting distracted by the extra UI. That said, it doesn’t look unnatural or out of place for the most part, and I suspect I will simply get used to it.

On the downside, desktop application compatibility is mixed. MarkdownPad 2 inexplicably supports Sets—which is goofy, since this app has its own document-based tabs—but some other desktop applications I use, like Microsoft Paint, do not. Google Chrome doesn’t support Sets, but web apps I save to the desktop with Chrome, like Google Inbox and Google Calendar, do. (That’s weird.) And my version of Office 2016 doesn’t support Sets either, but I believe I can fix that by getting this PC on Office Insider. I will do that.

So what happens when you select the “New tab” button (or type CTRL + WINKEY + T) in a Sets-capable window? Curiously, it opens a new Microsoft Edge tab, just as it would in Microsoft’s web browser. I’m not quite sure I understand that choice. And I don’t see a way to configure it to work otherwise. (I could see some hoping that it might basically add tabbing to apps that don’t natively support it.) It’s a bit goofy to open a new tab from the Chrome-based Inbox app window and get an Edge tab.

(Oddly, File Explorer does let you open a new File Explorer tab by typing WINKEY + T. But I’ve not yet found any other apps that work like that.)

You’re not limited to using the New tab button, of course: You can also drag a Sets-capable window into another and create a tabbed set that way, too. This works as I expected and seems to not suffer from the overly-sensitive grouping functionality seen in Stardock’s Groupy utility.

As the “Previous tabs” button suggests, tabbed sets will be remembered so you can call them up again later. This is a useful feature in Microsoft Edge, where each tab is a website. But it’s also very useful for apps and other windows. And it addresses a key limitation in virtual desktops, which have no way to save state like that.

Like any proper productivity feature, Sets will reward those who investigate this feature’s handful of useful options. These are found, logically enough, in Settings > System > Multitasking under the new Sets heading.

There are three options.

You can determine whether apps and (Edge-based) websites open new windows automatically in a new tab (the default) or window. I still use the Skype desktop application, and the default behavior short circuits Skype’s multi-window UI, which is one of the reasons I still use this version of the app. (New windows now open in tabs.)

You can also determine whether tabs appear individually in ALT + TAB (which wasn’t the case before with Edge tabs, but is now the default) or not.

And you can create a list of apps that will not work with Sets. This option is smart, but I’m curious if the list will sync with your online account. It should. In any event, adding Skype to the list solved my multi-window problem.

It’s early days, of course, and I’m sure there’s more to learn about Sets, and that Microsoft will be adding new features and tweaking how things work. But this looks solid to me: Sets is a nice antidote to the nonsense features Microsoft added in previous Windows 10 versions.


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Comments (57)

57 responses to “Hands-On with Redstone 5: Sets”

  1. Tony Barrett

    Is this not just more change for the sake of change? Did anyone actually ask for this functionality? Will it actually change the way the majority work? The answer to both is no.

    Every single change MS make in Win10 now is one more step towards Microsoft's end game, which no longer has the customer's interest at its center - dumb down, dump win32, bring Edge to the front, store apps only, service lock-in via subscription.

  2. lwetzel

    Has anyone tried Rafael's utility and can tell me what the feature number is and/or what all the feature numbers refer to?


    • sentinel6671

      In reply to lwetzel:

      I'm on Fast Ring build 17682 of Redstone 5, on my Surface Pro 3. I was not worthy enough to get access to sets. As near as I can tell, Raphael's utility does nothing. I ran it, rebooted, but still don't see controls to enable sets.

  3. Dan1986ist

    So does all custom-made Win32 Winforms/WFP or UWP applications have the ability use Sets in RS5 natively or is that only for certain applications?

  4. NT6.1

    Sets is bullshit. Just another way of Microsoft making people use Edge without noticing. Sets is a solution looking for a problem. We already have the taskbar and virtual desktops to manage everything. We just wanted a tabbed File Explorer.

  5. hrlngrv

    Something I just noticed: Sets eliminates the QAT from File Explorer. I hadn't configured its QAT to display below the ribbon, so it had been in the window title bar. Also, right-clicking on the collapse/expand button for the ribbon shows both Add to Quick Access Toolbar and Show Quick Access Toolbar below the Ribbon as disabled, so no way to change the QAT's location in 17666 (unless there's a registry tweak).

    FWIW, I also have Microsoft Mathematics installed, and it also draws a QAT in the window title bar, and it seems Sets doesn't support it at the moment. Just like Paint. Similarly for WordPad. Maybe nothing except File Explorer which could use a QAT currently works with Sets. For that matter, Google Chrome and Firefox Quantum drawing tabs in the window title bar also don't work with Sets, yet Firefox ESR with browser tabs drawn below the navigation bar also doesn't work with Sets. Also not working with Sets: Charmap, Quick Assist, Remote Desktop Connection, Snipping Tool, Steps Recorder, everything under Ease of Access.

    Full desktop Office programs don't work with Sets (QAT again along with other things Office 365 draws in the window title bar), but Excel Mobile does. Most of the desktop software I use seems to work with Sets, but a few don't: IcoFX, ReText, AllDup, Beyond Compare.

    I don't see how MSFT manages QATs and Sets without not making Sets tabs replacements for application window title bars. The alternative, scrapping QATs, would be a very bad idea, and QATs always below ribbons would take most people a while to get used to.

  6. warren

    Remote Desktop, Notepad and Settings work with Sets. These are all useful things to group together.

  7. NazmusLabs

    Paul, the reason sets doesn't work with Paint and Chrome is because they implement custom controls in the title bar. Most apps like MarkdownPad2 have standard title bars which is why they support sets.

    Apps with custom title bars need to be manually updated to support sets, including Office and File Explorer.

  8. aumha

    I've very excited about this, particularly (once it's mature) in an enterprise setting. In a law office (just to pick one example), it's quite common for people to have ma y, many items open at once - pieces of multiple separate jobs (e.g., 6-10 different Word, Excel, PDF files, emails, another half dozen web pages all on one job, but perhaps three different jobs going at once). From a support perspective, one of the best things I can get them to do is close what they have open; and, of course, one of the things the least want to do is close what they have open! (It takes too long to get it all back.) I am hoping Sets (which seems well conceived so far) will solve this problem. Pack your dozen items for one task on one "saved tabs" bundle, rotate between three or five or ten of these (tasks that necessarily have many parts, all needed) - pop open what you're working on, tuck it away, pull out the next. This, from performance, reliability, nd productivity perspectives, could be a game changer!

  9. red.radar

    So is this a new spin on the concept of multiple workspaces ? Sounds interesting but it could get cluttered and confusing.... but on the Bright side the name for the task bar is really appropriate..

    i think i rather use workspaces to accomplish this purpose rather than implement a new UI paradigm. Seems like a uneccesary feature.

  10. JustMe

    Can you turn this off or disable it (either using group policy or otherwise)?

    • NazmusLabs

      In reply to JustMe:

      You can disable it from the settings app. But why in the world would you want to disable it??

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to NazmusLabs:

        Why should JustMe have to explain wanting to disable it?

        Sadly, the only way Sets can be disabled in Build 17666 seems to be having been disabled in Build 17661. There are registry tweaks to enable and disable it on various web sites. If Sets were disabled in 17661 and the machine updated to 17666, Sets would still be disabled. The registry tweak to enable Sets does work to re-enable Sets in 17666, but the tweak to disable Sets doesn't work in 17666. Also, the setting which had been under Multitasking in 17661 no longer appears in those settings in 17666.

        At least until the next build, if Sets is enabled, you may be stuck with it.

      • SIAShotgun

        In reply to NazmusLabs:

        Because it's about choice. Personally, this feature will annoy the hell out of me, can't see why I'd want different apps in tabs in the same window at all. Some may feel differently, and that's fine. I don't.

  11. Rob Jansen

    Although it it is a new look and could come in handy but it is a change you need to come accustomed to. During tests in a Virtual Machine it works fine but even Microsoft's own apps are not fully compatible.

    Most apps (even updated with fluent) will show the titlebar below the tabs and a small number of apps are looking great with it.

    For me personally as I use multiple monitors and snap items it currently not needed for my workflow.

  12. mjw149

    I love that they're adding major features to desktop, even if universal, constant 'save' isn't one of them.

    But I'm not sure it's a good fit with a constant quarterly cadence. This is potentially a major change that will confuse users/support, and yet there's no major windows version rollout to build messaging and training around.

    And consider how Windows is split between the tablet and desktop worlds, and it feels like a tug of war. Some teams are trying to simplify and tear down walls while others are adding unnecessary but cool flying buttresses like this. I read tech news everyday, all day long and I'm not even sure how their Android integration works. I own an xbox and I didn't know that remote play was windows only until I tried it. Apple's crazy silo between ios and mac has some advantages, you know, and I'm not sure MS has a big picture anymore.

  13. VancouverNinja

    I just used sets on a extremely large analysis this last Friday night. I found it far more convenient than bouncing between windows. It really did make my work effort more unified and less jarring to transitioning between different windows and then having to get focus on the window. At first it couldn't figure out why it was better, but I have come to the conclusion that clicking on the tab on the top of the window to move between curated windows I have opened just made the effort seamless. At times I will have multiple instances of Edge open, with multiple instances of Excel open etc etc etc; this does make more difficult if you are working for a few hours going between the data you need to consolidate into one document or email.

    As far as I am concerned this feature is a major step forward. Sometimes it is the little enhancements that make a big difference to work flow productivity and I think this is the biggest one to hit PC productivity in a very long time. A small note - to make software easy to use, and at times so easy a user never even pays attention to it, it can take a phenomenal amount of development to make the feature "easy" for the user. Sets, and especially Timeline, are perfect examples of this.

  14. Scott8846

    About the A/B testing thing, I'm not sure I fully agree on a technical point of view.

    Of course we can all agree that this is not "real" or "pure" A/B testing. At least not in the way that we generally talk about it.

    I could be wrong, but my take on this is that if they (MS) are not a 100% sure that a feature will make it to the next release, they have to make sure that the builds are still stable without it.

    They have to because big features like Sets often don't make it alone. Multiple subsystems may have to change to make it easier to integrate the big feature.

    And those subsystems changes might make it to the next release with or without the big feature (maybe because they make the subsystem better for other reasons), so as I wrote above they have to make sure that Windows as a whole is still stable no matter what happen.

    So this is a kind of A/B testing because these are really two options of what could happen in the next release. in that case RS5 with or without Sets.

    At this point I guess that some would say that it is a given that we'll get Sets in RS5 or that MS could do like they did with RS4 and remove it in the last few builds if they decide not to include it. And... well, fair enough. We'll have to wait and see I guess.

  15. andrewtechhelp

    The Chrome behaviour makes sense. Because regular Chrome has a customised title bar (it has the Chrome browser tabs in the Title Bar to save space) it isn't compatible with Sets out of the box. However, the Pinned Chrome Web App windows just have a stock standard Title Bar without the customised Chrome browser tabs added, those are compatible with Sets out of the box. To people actually using the functionality when it is released, I can see that this might be a little odd and unpredictable as to when Sets will be available to them.

    I don't know about the level of integration developers have with Sets, but it might be possible that apps that have customised title bars could opt-in to Sets if the developer did the work to support that, but I don't know that for certain (would make sense to me personally if it was possible).

  16. spacein_vader

    This may be the first feature added to Win10 since launch that I actually use.

  17. gregsedwards

    I believe the tight coupling with the Edge browser is part of the design of Sets. Microsoft obviously want to boost the relevance of their browser. I don't see it as all that different from what Apple does with Safari in iOS; sure, you can use another browser, but certain features are going to revert back to the default browser. Whether or not there's a technical reason for it remains to be seen.

  18. TheJoeFin

    I love the idea behind sets. I'm excited to see Microsoft slowly tweak and improve the UX and add features. It seems obvious that a set should be able to be in a side by side frame, which was acknowledged at Build. Integration with the Microsoft Graph in the 'new tab' page is seriously smart on Microsoft's part. Give users access to their productivity data so they can keep being more productive.

    Also I wonder if Timeline and Sets will begin to make Windows 10 seem like a more sophisticated OS than MacOS to consumers and professionals. Both of these features are pretty unique and data-backed making them hard to copy.

  19. texasaggie97

    I'm curious how Sets compares to Stardock's Groupy? I've been using Groupy for a while now and like it on my laptop where I only have one screen and need to randomly switch windows.

    • Darekmeridian

      In reply to texasaggie97:

      At the moment I am still in the Groupy camp only because setting up "Groups" is pretty simple, a matter of dragging and droping a few windows together and you have a Group that you can save. Groupy doesn't care what kind of apps are grouped together and there is no dependency on interface cues that are a little confusing (internal app tabs, set pluses).

      I am a little concerned that on the last build (17666) Microsoft removed the option to disable Sets in the settings section (you were able too in previous RS5 builds). It may be a move to say use our Sets feature or things will be just messy. Sets in the end may be better because it can be better integrated into the OS but right now I still like the Groupy

    • George Semple

      In reply to texasaggie97:

      I've been using Stardock's Groupy and have no issues adding Google Chrome to a 'Group'. I just started experimenting with Sets on RS5 and so far, I prefer Groupy. That may change as we move through summer but for now, I find Groupy more useful.

  20. Richardsona39

    A couple years ago, Android introduced the ability to have individual Chrome tabs show up in the apps list when you hit the apps button. Generally speaking I think people disliked it as the order in which they showed up was very hard to predict so it took a lot of flipping through, plus if you have quite a few Chrome tabs open it slows down getting to any other app because more things to go through. Personally I switched it off almost immediately, and I think they dropped it as a feature (don't see it in Settings now). So I'm skeptical about how this would work on desktop also.

    But overall I really like the Sets concept. Between that and Timeline and syncing across machines, we're kind of going back to what the old Java Stations did when I worked at Sun Microsystems - just log in on any machine and you're back to your desktop right where you left off!

  21. jimchamplin

    The acrylic looks nice in the bars. I wish the active tab wasn’t fully opaque, though. Minor quibble though.

  22. Bart

    "It’s a bit goofy to open a new tab from the Chrome-based Inbox app window and get an Edge tab." And THIS is how MS gets you to use Edge. Very clever.

    And if I were Microsoft, I would limit Sets to Store apps. Forcing any company/dev who wants to incorporate Sets into their app, to publish their app in the Store.

  23. gregsedwards

    I haven't yet used Sets (or Groupy for that matter), but I have the nagging feeling that this feature is just a bit too esoteric for the average end-user. It's a bit like the multiple desktops feature introduced in Windows 10. Sure, it allows you to manage and organize functional groups of windows by project, but how many average users really feel the need do that? I think between the Taskbar, Task Switcher, Task Manager, and Task View/Timeline, we have more than enough ways to see and access everything that's running on your desktop. Maybe it's just one of those things you have to try out in order to understand. And maybe it makes a lot more sense in the context of some of those other tools (such as Taskbar) being deprecated in a future version of Windows.

    • RickEveleigh

      In reply to gregsedwards:

      I've tried it (as it was on by default for me in RS5) but I don't like it -- I prefer each window being in a window. So I have tried it out but I don't understand! Like Multiple Desktops, it sounds interesting but I don't get it. Maybe I'm being a luddite or just thick!

  24. Chris Payne

    I've been trying to follow sets and I'm still not quite sure I get it. So we get tabbed windows, sure. But MS has been saying this somehow ties into timeline? What is sets if not just tabs?

    • MikeCerm

      In reply to unkinected:

      Set IS just tabs -- tabbed windows with different apps running within. I regularly will have a browser Windows open with my email in one tab, and my calendar in another. I click a link in my email, it opens in a new tab. I click an attachment, like an Excel file, and now Excel opens in its own separate window, divorced from the context in which is was opened. Now, with Sets, imagine that same scenario, but you have actual Outlook open in one tab, and when you click an attachment, it opens Excel in a tab in the same Window. So, basically it works just like Chrome OS, but instead of everything being a web app that opens in a tab, all of your "real" apps can work just like tabs in a browser.

      How this works with Timeline, presumably, is that Sets get saved and can be recalled. So, let's say you run a small business and you're going to work on billing. With one click, you can pull up a Set that has Outlook and QuickBooks right next to each. Or whatever other scenario you can imagine. I'm not really sure how exactly this is really that much better than having two separate apps in two separate windows, but this is what Microsoft is aiming to do.

  25. sentinel6671

    My Surface Pro 3 is in the fast ring, on Windows 10 build 17682. I didn't get access to sets. I tried Raphael's utility, but it does nothing, even after a reboot.

    Guess I must have done something wrong in the install.

    Don't understand the rationale behind A/B testing, but whatever...

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